GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Details about undocumented children who come alone to Grand Rapids are so secretive that even one of our elected officials said he doesn’t know how many have come here.
Faith leaders say the precise numbers and personal details about these children aren’t important. What is significant, they say, is that this is a moral issue.
Many undocumented children who arrive alone in the U.S. at the southern border, often from Central American countries, are entered into a federal program and seek asylum. Some end up here in West Michigan.
It’s a highly sensitive program that federal agencies prefer to keep quiet. It took Target 8 days and dozens of phone calls to get any information.
And U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland) said he doesn’t know how many kids are in the program.
“Certainly this isn’t new, Bethany Christian Services working with the federal government on this program for a number of years. And [Target 8] had reported on some of the schools that were here,” Huizenga said Wednesday. “And what I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone knows is, what are the numbers coming in.”
Target 8 has confirmed that at least 90 unaccompanied, undocumented children have come to West Michigan so far this year. Bethany Christian Services is currently actively seeking foster families for them.
Huizenga described the influx of such children to the U.S. as a “major crisis,” saying the issue is not about compassion, but rather about legally keeping the border secure.
“I understand there is an opportunity element here if you can get your children out of a Central American country,” Huizenga said. “The question is here are these the poorest of the poor these faith leaders are talking about. And I’ve had this conversation with my own faith leaders as well, and I’m not sure it’s serving the people who they think it’s serving.”
West Michigan faith leaders disagree.
“I’m hoping that everyone will be involved that will not look at it as a political issue even economically, but look at it as a moral issue,” Reverend Robert Dean, the pastor of New Life Church of God in Christ, said. “Even if you’re not religious, you can still have a heart.”
Faith leaders gathered to discuss the issue Wednesday and to ask people in West Michigan to join them in a statewide day of prayer for the unaccompanied minors coming to the region.
They said that once people get to know the kids who are leaving everything in their countries to come to the U.S., they hope people will understand.
“I don’t know that it’s important that we know who they are individually so much as the fact that they’re children and they’re here and they have needs,” said Sandra Delgado, a vicaress for the Dominican Sisters. “We’re saying we’re praying for the children. We are, I think more than anything though, we’re praying for a change of heart for the people who are very much against assisting these children. Even those of us who are with the children to have the strength to be able to do the work that we would like to have done.”
Faith leaders are asking churches to participate in a statewide day of prayer Sunday for kids coming to the U.S. alone.
U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Grand Rapids) did not respond to Target 8’s repeated requests for comment about the program Wednesday.